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Task force seizes pirate ‘mother ship’

In this file photo, members of a USS Gettysburg visit, board, search and seizure team, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, approach a suspected pirate mothership after responding to a merchant vessel's distress signal in the Gulf of Aden.

ERIC L. BEAUREGARD/U.S. NAVY

By SANDRA JONTZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 15, 2009

Two ships assigned to the multinational counter-piracy mission off Somalia and in the Middle East seized an alleged pirate "mother ship" on Wednesday and detained more than a dozen suspected pirates, Navy officials said Thursday.

The Republic of Korea destroyer ROKS Munmu the Great and the American guided missile cruiser USS Gettysburg responded to a distress call about 3:30 p.m. local time Wednesday from the Egyptian-flagged Motor Vessel Amira. The Amira reported being attacked some 86 miles south of Al Mukalla, Yemen, said Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet.

The suspected pirates on the skiff fired assault rifle rounds and a rocket-propelled grenade at the Amira, causing slight damage. The men threw a rope from the skiff, but the attempted boarding failed and they abandoned the attack, Christensen said.

"When they failed, helicopters launched [from the U.S. and Korean ships] saw that it had gone back to the suspected pirate mother ship," a larger dhow vessel, Christensen said.

During its flight, a SH-60B helicopter from the Gettysburg, assigned to helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron Light 46, located the suspected mother ship with 17 people onboard, he said.

Sailors with the Gettysburg’s visit, board, search and seizure team and U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment 409 boarded the ship and took the suspected pirates into custody. All 17 were taken on board the Gettysburg for further questioning, Christensen said.

Team members found eight assault rifles, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and a rocket-propelled grenade aboard a dhow, according to a Navy statement.

"Currently, a determination is being made as to whether the suspected pirates will be turned over for prosecution," Christensen said.

A January agreement between the U.S. State Department and the Kenyan government lets U.S. military and coalition nations capture suspected pirates and turn them over to Kenya for prosecution.

The Somali pirates’ use of mother ships, usually loaded with ammunition, fuel and food, let pirates operate further out to sea to attack ships transiting the heavily used shipping routes.